NFU at the International Dairy Federation Global Conference

Published 30 November 2021


NFU dairy board chairman Michael Oakes reports on the International Dairy Federation's 2021 conference, held in Copenhagen in October.

A changing climate for dairy

It was fantastic to be back at such a large scale conference in person, alongside our colleagues from a range of countries.

The International Dairy Federation (IDF) conference, “A changing climate for dairy” encapsulated a broad range of topics including sustainable diets, food safety, processing and technology as well as updates on cow health and the effects and impacts of policies and economics.

We heard from notable political figures including the Danish Minister for Food, Agriculture and Fisheries, Rasmus Prehn and the EU Commissioner Stella Kyriakides.

The future of the industry

There was also a panel discussion with leaders of major dairy businesses including Lactalis, Dairy Farmers of America, Arla Foods and Mengnui Dairy in China – which raised challenging discussions and ambitious thoughts around the future of dairy in sustainable diets as a highly nutritious product and our role in combatting climate change.

It was fantastic to see the forward-thinking nature of these businesses in driving forward sustainable action and setting bold roadmaps for growth and positive change and keeping the farmer central to this.

The trip also involved an inspiring visit to Arla’s Innovation Centre in Aarhus and to a number of successful dairy farms in the region, to hear of the challenges facing our Danish counterparts.

United by challenges

A striking element that shone through in all of the visits and through the conference was that despite the differences in dairy farming systems across the world, the challenges facing us all certainly unite us. Be it climate change or future regulation and policy, dairy farming is certainly no simple vocation for any of us.

It was incredibly interesting and somewhat sobering to hear from Danish farmers about their concerns around the future of dairying in their country, stating that forthcoming prohibitive environmental policies were potentially too challenging to overcome, in part in relation to capital costs required to meet them, particularly when balanced with Denmark’s recently announced ambitious 70% emission reduction target by 2030, which farmers feel doesn’t take them along with it.

This, coupled with a lack of interest from younger generations in continuing the dairy family business sees a number of dairy farmers we spoke to considering retirement or diversification into storage and shed renting within the next five years. This is certainly worrying and is somewhat reminiscent of what I am hearing from some farmers here in the UK.

Improving the sustainability of dairy

However, it is important not to let this negativity cloud reality.

Our new Dairy Roadmap Climate Ambition certainly sets the tone here for our route towards dairy farmers driving net zero and this was featured during NFU President Minette Batters’ panel appearance in the Dairy Sustainability Framework “Pathways to Net Zero” event at COP26, which brought together a common global ambition for dairy environmental sustainability.

This type of collective and united global action is crucial to achieve our future challenges in this sector and it was refreshing to hear and see so much development and investment in innovation and technology across animal health, feed and genetics as well as more widely within the processing sector at the IDF conference.

The future is in safe hands 

We also know that we have a highly driven and ambitious contingent of young people, through our NFU Young Farmer and Student Ambassador programme in the likes of current ambassador Joe Bramall, or our own dairy board appointee Jess Langton, who are here to pursue futures in the dairy industry. Jess has won a range of awards including, most recently, the Countryfile Young Countryside Champion award and we know that the future is in safe hands, with these young farmers keen to take the reins and who are already doing so much to promote our sector.

Research and development

It was also incredibly uplifting is to see the sheer scale and breadth of innovation and new product development (NPD) at the Arla Innovation Centre. It was extraordinary to tour round labs which examine the chemistry and physics of dairy products and areas designed specifically for expert taste testers to analyse and give feedback on products in development, further cementing my faith in dairy as a key part of a sustainable diet for all age groups and dietary needs.

The future is bright

From my visit to Denmark, despite the challenges that we currently face and that lie ahead, I am confident that with the passion and diverse thought across our global dairy sector, and the genuine demand for and enjoyment of dairy products across the world, we have a sustainable and exciting future ahead of us.

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